Today was Thanksgiving Day for Americans like me and after a big turkey dinner with friends, I headed to Cherkizovo to see if I indeed had something to be thankful for. Unfortunately, a series of defensive errors led to a 4-2 defeat against Sporting as we again failed to seal qualification from the group. We'll have to sweat out what will be a nervy matchday 6 in Albania.
A decent crowd of 12,000 braved the cold, Moscow evening. Loko was without the suspended Corluka and Mykhalyk filled in. Also, Maicon played for the still not 100% Kasaev and Fernandes gave Kolomeytsev a rest. Sporting named a weakened lineup (not evident from the result) as Rui Patricio was suspended and Carvalho didn't fly to Russia. Main scoring threat Slimeni started on the bench.
The Railwaymen got off to the best of starts in the 5th minute. A N'Dinga pass found a clear Maicon who caught the Sporting defense sleeping and slotted past Boeck for the 1-0 lead. But that was virtually the end of our highlights in the 1st half as Loko allowed Sporting to camp out in their half and paid for it dearly. In the 20th minute, an unmarked Montero scored from a cross, then in the 38th minute Ruiz scored on a nifty give-and-go with Montero. Minutes later, an offsides Gelson Martins struck again for the guests and the flag stayed down. Despite that, Sporting's 3-1 halftime lead was justified.
Loko started off the 2nd half better and had two clear opportunities to score, but Maicon hit the post and Fernandes was too strong on a centering pass. Despite our pressure, it was Sporting who would add to their lead when Pereira was played clear of our comatose defenders and Guilherme let a ball go between his legs for a goal for the 3rd time of the day. That was that. Miranchuk added a consolation goal four minutes before the end as he beautifully controlled a high looping cross to the box with his chest before slamming in into the goal. But it was too little, too late as Loko fell 4-2.
Loko's run of worrying form continued today, but surprisingly we were so good early in the season that it's not a disaster yet. We still control our own fate in Group H and 1 point against Skenderbeu in Albania in two weeks would guarantee our qualification unless Besiktas loses to Sporting 4-3 or 5-4, a highly unlikely outcome. A Besiktas win over Sporting would see us through as well. We also still have a pretty good shot at winning the group which will happen if we beat Skenderbeu and Besiktas fails to defeat Sporting in Lisbon. There's three more matches to play in 2015 and they're all winnable. Time to finish strong.
Also, I went to the Anzhi match but got sick directly after and I didn't write a report. But I wanted to congratulate Loko fans for not making racist chants against Anzhi and their supporters. It made the atmosphere much nicer and it was greatly appreciated by me.